RELEASE COURTESY OF THE RMAC
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (July 9, 2015 – by Holly Kellner) ~ Coach, professor, teammate, athletic administrator, and "second mom" are all titles Jessie Banks has held over the years; each one as important as the next. A woman of many titles and many passions, Banks was a pioneer in all things women's sports. Ann DeBoe, one of her former basketball players, describes Banks as her mentor, "role model" and a "builder" for women's sports during a time where her kind of revolutionary and forward thinking was unprecedented.
As the school's first ever coach in women's basketball and volleyball, Jessie Banks arrived at CSU Pueblo in 1966. During her tenure there, she also coached softball and track & field. In 1979 she was named RMAC Volleyball Coach of the Year in just the second year volleyball was recognized as a conference sport. That year Banks helped Southern Colorado to the East Division Championship, a feat they would repeat in 1980. In women's basketball, her 1978-1979 squad won the RMAC East Division with a 7-1 RMAC record. They also won the East in 1980-81.
Perhaps some of her coaching success stems from her own athletic prowess. Banks played professional basketball for the "All-American Redheads," between 1954 and 1959. The Redheads were the first women's professional basketball team. The team was known for breaking down social barriers and stereotypes as they toured around the world, and for that reason, Banks fit in perfectly with this group of daredevil women. DeBoe laughs as she thinks back to when Coach Banks would show off some of her own tricks: "Here was this 'old lady' (in our opinion even though she wasn't that old) taking it to us and it was frustrating. She could spin a basketball on her finger and spin a basketball on top of another basketball. She wouldn't do it unsolicited; we would always kind of egg her on to show us her stuff so to speak. We would have half court shoot outs with her and she would always win those also."
As if coaching four sports at the University wasn't enough, Banks was an Assistant Athletic Director and a professor for thirty years. She earned her Master's degree from Adams State in 1966 and undergraduate degree from Central State (Oklahoma), and knew her way around various committees and boards, often being woman present. In her first few years coaching basketball, Banks was a key component in the formation of the American Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW), the original governing body for women's athletics in the 1970s and 1980s before the NCAA and the NAIA formally sponsored women's competition and championships. She was determined to move women's sports forward, especially when it came to transforming the game of basketball. For instance, DeBoe recalls her being particularly passionate about making the women's basketballs smaller. A rule that still stands today across the world.
Banks continues to be an instrumental part of the All-American Redheads' ongoing reunion efforts and outreach, and was a main driving force behind the team being submitted for inclusion in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2012. She currently resides in Pueblo and is still a major part of the CSU-Pueblo athletic program. The award and scholarship for the top female student-athlete at CSU-Pueblo bears her name. She is a member of the Lindsay (Okla.) High School Hall of Fame, the Colorado Coaches of Girls Sports Hall of Fame, the Greater Pueblo Sports Hall of Fame and the CSU-Pueblo Athletics Hall of Fame (charter member in 2008).
Banks certainly was a trailblazer when and is recognized as the most influential person in the creation of women's athletics at CSU-Pueblo. DeBoe described her coach as a "rebel and fighter" but one who was very humble and never bragged about herself; she didn't need to because her actions spoke for themselves as they will once again when she is inducted into the RMAC Hall of Fame at the end of this month.
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As a member of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference, Colorado State University – Pueblo competes in 22 varsity sports in NCAA Division II intercollegiate athletics.